This episode is a nightmare. Oliver finds ways to threaten Reverie in the real world and the virtual world, and threatens Mara and Alexis besides. He’s the worst ex-boyfriend and ex-coworker ever. Both Alexis and Mara spend a significant amount of time dealing with tragic deaths they thought they’d already dealt with. And almost all of my theories and predictions are proven wrong, which is a sad, sad turn of events. The double agents and spies on this show always turn out to be low-level security guards and the like, which is no fun at all.
If Reverie gets a season 2, I hope they fill out their cast of regular and recurring characters more, and bring some complexity to all of the characters. I love the Onira Tech gang, but as it stands, Oliver is the only one who feels like a real human being with the full range of contradictory emotions and reactions. The rest of the regulars are always under control, even when they aren’t or shouldn’t be.
Mara has emotions, but she tries hard to be good. That’s why it feels so wrong to me that Mara talked Ray into shooting himself. Even when she was a down and out alcoholic, she was still a sweet, supportive teacher. Where has her mean streak been all season?
Let’s move on and find out how the writers decided to end the season, since they didn’t use any of my ideas. 😜😜
We rejoin Mara and Ray in the white grid Reverie that is Ray’s comatose mind. Mara explains what’s going on to Ray. He’s not happy to be conscious again in any way, or talking to her, but Mara needs to understand what happened the night Jamie and Brynn died.
Alexis drives to her parents’ house to celebrate her birthday. They put away her phone for some uninterrupted family time. She wistfully looks at the dozens of photos of herself that are displayed in the house, with only one photo of Dylan.
Paul created a bare-bones version of Jamie and Ray’s apartment for Mara and Ray’s talk. When they enter, Ray asks where the pictures are, but Mara says they didn’t have time to add details like photos.
Mara asks Ray to explain how he ended up pointing a gun at her sister and niece. He tells her that he lost his job, but didn’t tell Jamie because he thought he’d get another one right away. He couldn’t find another job, and as time went on, bills went unpaid. Then they began to turn the utilities off. On the day the electricity was turned off, he came home to find Jaimie and Brynn in the process of leaving to go stay at her mother’s. He felt powerless to stop her, so he got out the gun to make him feel more in control. He didn’t intend to use it, but the situation continued to spiral out of control. When Mara and the police arrived, he remembers thinking that they’d never be a family again, and they’d all be better off dead.
Mara tells Ray that he had no right to decide that for them.
Alexis looks at a photo album with her mom, then her dad brings out her birthday cake. She gets upset because Dylan’s name isn’t on the cake. Then she brings up the lack of photos of Dylan around the house, and her parents’ general lack of Dylan in their lives, especially Dylan the AI that she built. She asks if they’re trying to forget about her brother.
Her mom says that they could never forget about Dylan. They think about him everyday. But Dylan the computer isn’t their son. Alexis says that she built her Dylan so that they didn’t have to lose her brother, but her parents won’t engage with the AI at all. Her parents tell her that they still had to raise her after Dylan died. They couldn’t dwell on his death and they wanted to encourage her to keep developing rather than let her get bogged down with guilt.
Alexis has realized that actually all three of them stuffed their feelings about Dylan down deep, and have stayed in the same place emotionally ever since. She takes the trash out the back door, and remembers Dylan pounding on the garage door, asking to be let in. Then Oliver, who also spends a lot of time asking her to let him back in, grabs her.
After Ray shot Jamie and Brynn, all he remembers is pointing the gun at his head. Mara tells him the rest of what happened. She says that she made him pull the trigger. Ray says that she didn’t make him do anything. She just gave him permission to do what he wanted to do anyway.
Ray: “I wanted to die. I still do. I keep having this dream. Like a hundred times. Of Jamie and Brynn. I’m running after them, trying to tell them how sorry I am. I never meant to hurt them. And I can never see their faces. It’s like the longer it goes on, the more things just fade away. That’s why I was looking for the pictures on the wall. Because I can’t remember what they look like. I don’t blame you for what you did. I deserve everything I got.”
Mara comes out of the Reverie. Paul informs her that Alexis has gone missing and they have to go help with the search. At Onira Tech, Paul has his people start looking for signs of Oliver in Reverie. One of Paul’s assistants, Casey Hathaway, lets him know that Alexis has been offline for an unusual amount of time. Just then, Alexis logs in to Reverie remotely on an infrequently used secondary server.
Oliver has used Alexis’ security key to recreate the scene of one of their early dates, Einstein’s secret underground lab. He’s forced Alexis into the Reverie and locked her in, using unethical tricks that he learned from the military’s reconfigured Reveries. The exodus function is keyed to his voice alone and the mandala is cleverly hidden. She’s locked in the room.
Oliver says that Einstein regretted helping to build the bomb the killed hundreds of thousands of people. He’s not going to let Alexis make the same mistake.
In fact, Einstein didn’t help build the atomic bomb, and spent the rest of his life clarifying that fact. He wrote a letter suggesting the US research atomic weapons, because the Germans were making progress in that direction. He was denied access to the Manhattan Project, so he knew nothing about the actual bomb building program, and had nothing to regret, other than that single letter. Oliver is probably thinking of Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb, who was against further research on nuclear weapons. If they’re going to have Oliver spend the episode telling us what a genius among geniuses he is, they could at least have him get his scientific history right.
He’s going to keep Alexis in Reverie and with him until they solve Reverie’s problems. Alexis tells him that her people will find her, but Oliver says it won’t matter. By the time they do, it’ll be too late.
He also says he could never hurt her. Except he did, last week.
Now we’ll watch people play right into Oliver’s hands for a while. He doesn’t have any intention of working with Alexis. She’s bait and a distraction away from his real plan. At least half of what he said to Alexis was lies.
Charlie brings Paul a computer, the only thing Oliver left in his apartment. Since it didn’t have a sign on it that said Drink Me or Eat Me, they turn it on instead. It just happens to be a computer that allows access to the Reverie Alexis is being held hostage in. Mara immediately volunteers to go in after her, and won’t allow anyone to stop her. Nobody stops to think that maybe this computer was left as bait to accomplish that very thing.
Someone turns the air conditioning off at Onira Tech, which means that all of Reverie’s servers will start to overheat soon. Paul and Casey figure out that Oliver must have Alexis’ security key. Oliver locks Dylan and the staff out before they can stop him. That means he can shut down Reverie, which would hurt the 15,000 people currently using the program.
Oliver’s Reverie is a run down school. Mara wanders the halls trying to get a sense of direction and find Alexis. Screaming avatars run at her, then dissolve, every couple of minutes. She finds a piece of chalk and marks an X on the door of every room she checks.
Charlie investigates Oliver’s movements in recent months. Monica Shaw joins him, with the gift for Dylan of access to red light and traffic cameras, plus a network of cell phone towers.
Mara finds Alexis, but can’t open the locked door. Alexis gives her a lamp switch that’s shaped like a key. Mara successfully convinces Reverie she’s using the key to unlock the door and gets Alexis out into the hall with her.
Monica, Charlie and Dylan discover that Oliver once set fire to his high school. They find a photo of him with a group of schoolmates at a cabin on a mountain in California. Oliver has recently been spotted near there. Monica and Charlie set out to find the cabin.
Paul takes steps to keep the servers cool, like setting up fans, and has his staff disable user access to Reverie in order to minimize injuries should Oliver succeed in damaging the program.
Mara and Alexis search for a mandala for a long time. Alexis insists that there has to be one. It’s one of the only required parts of a Reverie build. It can be hidden, but it has to exist.
The screaming, dissolving people continue. Alexis explains that these are what Oliver’s derealizations look like. What she means is that this is what his schizophrenic hallucinations look like, and they’re so intense that they carry over into Reverie, then into his derealizations. Everything about Oliver screams paranoid schizophrenic. He’s starting to give me some flashbacks to a particular period in my life and a particular untreated schizophrenic. Not good times.
Oliver dresses in workman’s coveralls and talks his way into Onira Tech’s server rooms. He’s brought a cart of something with him, but it’s covered. Once Oliver gets the staff cleared out, he locks the server rooms down.
Alexis finds a room where avatars of her parents are crying miserably over Dylan’s death. When they see her, they say all of the vicious things she’s worried that her parents really think about her. They blame her for Dylan’s death and tell her that he was their favorite. Mara interrupts and reminds Alexis that this isn’t real. The avatars are gatekeepers for the mandala.
Charlie and Monica act as a two-man SWAT team and approach the cabin. They peak inside and find Alexis unconscious on the couch, alone. They break into the house and wait for Alexis’ to wake up.
Inside the room Alexis’ parents were guarding, is a vision from one of her Reveries that illustrates one of her greatest fears. When Paul’s Reverie’s generated visions that led him to make his peace with his abusive father, she decided to explore her dark side as well.
The only unprogrammed image that ever came up was this one. It’s a park full of people with only the glowing whites of their eyes showing. Her fear was that she’d created something that would destroy people rather than help them.
Mara reminds Alexis how much Reverie has helped her work out her depression and anxiety due to the loss of her family. Mara agrees with Alexis that Reverie is a gift. She convinces Alexis to use the mandala that’s straight ahead. Alexis goes through the mandala, but Mara is still in the Reverie when we leave the scene.
Alexis wakes up to find Charlie waiting for her. He radios back to Paul, who tells him that Mara came out at the same time. So she used the mandala? As they’re getting in the car, Monica pokes around the yard. She finds empty chemical containers that add up to a fire hazard. They figure out that Oliver has plans to set a fire in the server room that will destroy the servers and Reverie.
Back at Onira Tech, the building is being evacuated, but Oliver is still inside with his cart full of thermite, there are still 6,000 people using Reverie, and if Oliver succeeds in burning down the building he’ll destroy Dylan, Reverie and all of the back ups. You’d think Charlie would have enough sense to send daily backups someplace else. This is what Swiss server farms are for. Or Amazon.
Once again, Mara volunteers to go in first. Charlie reluctantly agrees, but only if he and a security team go along. Alexis uses some technology and a piggyback onto the security key that Oliver stole from her to get the team into the building.
Oliver has already spread the lines of thermite. He’s not interested in talking to Mara. He considers her a lost cause because she didn’t take his advice to remove the BCI. She’s now lumped in with all of the other expendables.
Which gives Mara an opening to bring up the school he burned down. She’s figured out that the running, screaming derealizations are on fire. She wants to talk more about his issues, but Oliver has been trying to talk to people about his ideas and issues his entire life. He’s been repeatedly dismissed as crazy.
Mara comes off as patronizing when she tries to explain to him that he’s acting out because he’s tired of being dismissed, then tries to convince him that she believes him and will listen to his ideas. He sees right through her, and lights the fire anyway. He does say that she should have left when he warned her to.
Charlie shoots Oliver as he’s lighting the fire, but it doesn’t stop him. He drops to the floor and crawls to grab a Reverie pad. He enters a Reverie and passes out on the floor in the middle of the fire. That must have been his way of trying to die painlessly.
The firefighters get Oliver out alive, but badly burned. Mara and Charlie get out okay. Three weeks later, the damage has been repaired, thanks to an infusion of cash from Monica Shaw. There were fewer than 1,000 people left in Reverie when it went down. Those people are being monitored for after effects, but seem okay so far. Oliver hasn’t regained consciousness.
Mara is testing Reverie 2.0. Changes have been made to stop the issues with derealizations. They should be back online by the end of the day.
Mara visits Ray in Reverie one last time. She tells him that she’s wasted enough time hating him. She wants to move on. So she’s brought him something. It’s a photograph of Jamie and Brynn. He looks at it, then holds it to his chest. In the real world, he flat lines. Mara gave him what he needed to be able to move on.
Alexis finishes up her repairs from the fire. She saved Dylan’s repairs and upgrades for last. She tells Dylan the story of real Dylan’s death before she does the upgrade.
One night their parents came home from work late. Alexis was working on a project in the garage. Dylan wanted to come in, but Alexis wanted to work alone. After a while, Dylan climbed up on the roof, probably trying to see her through the skylight. He slipped and fell through the glass on to the concrete floor below. Alexis was playing loud music and didn’t hear him fall. By the time she checked on him it was too late. Even though it wasn’t her fault, she’s always felt partially responsible because she didn’t check on him sooner.
Alexis was so sad that she started to look for a way to avoid saying goodbye to him, which led her to create Dylan the AI and the Reverie program. But now she realizes that she’s also remained stuck in one place because of that, and unable to see people (Oliver) clearly.
Paul asks Mara why she went back to give Ray the photo. She explains that she wants to keep helping people through the Reverie program. She figured if she could help him, she could probably help anyone.
They joke around a bit, and Paul tells her again that he cares about her. They’re just about to kiss when Charlie interrupts them to go to the Reverie relaunch party.
How many clones does that guy have? Are they all assigned to watching Paul and Mara and stopping their relationship? Is he ready to fire anyone who engages in intraoffice romance after Alexis and Oliver?
Alexis has a newly grown up, deep-voiced Dylan (weird) count down the launch of the new version of Reverie. Users hop on immediately and life is good.
But wait!! That killjoy Paul just has to look closely at the statistics on his tablet and notice an anomaly involving Mara. Reverie thinks she’s using the program right now.
He shows his tablet to Mara, who’s happy and doesn’t want to be brought down. Plus, she’s feels like she’s a pretty good authority on her own location.
Except… There’s a last shot of a haggard looking Mara still stuck in the Reverie that Oliver created, repeatedly drawing X after X on the same door.
So, after Alexis went through Oliver’s mandala, was the rest of the episode a second Reverie that he set up to fool her? Was the notice of Mara in the program, a warning that Alexis sent herself because she’s still in the program, too?
Or was Mara stuck in that Reverie after Alexis left, since the mandala was coded to Alexis and the exodus function was coded to Oliver? We know Mara has a special connection to Reverie 2.0 which gives her abilities no one else has. Maybe she used some form of dissociation to wake most of her consciousness up from the Reverie and go on living normally, probably having something to do with the believe it and it’s real method she and Alexis used with the key. She believed Exodus would work, so it did, but it didn’t fully work.
Some small part of her that’s connected to the BCI is still in Reverie going mad, and currently the only way to get it out is to extract her BCI surgically. Oliver really wants to force her to have her BCI permanently extracted. It makes sense for him to make it the only way she can exit the Reverie.
Or, alternatively, her belief in the Exodus exit took her to a spontaneously generated Reverie scenario in which the team saved the day, fixed the problems with Reverie, and everything turned out okay. But her mind still knows she’s stuck in the program, so eventually that scenario collapsed.
Whatever else happens, there is for sure a spontaneously generated Reverie involved, caused by belief in the scenario, and the only solution is to surgically extract Mara’s BCI. Next season, the team will have to find a way around Oliver’s barriers and locks to get Mara (and Alexis?) out of his Reverie.
I tend to believe (Ha!) that they wouldn’t undo everything that they did in this episode, like Mara’s development with Ray and Alexis’ development with Dylan, so I’m leaning toward the dissociation theory, with most of the episode taking place in reality. Of course, so far my belief hasn’t made anything come true on this show.
Reverie has been hard to predict for me because it’s so unusual in the current TV landscape. They’ve gone the Star Trek OG and Next Generation route of having well-adjusted team members who rarely argue amongst themselves, leaving the bulk of the conflict and drama to come from external sources, with ex-team member Oliver as the ongoing nemesis. No one does that any more, so it’s hard to remember to think that way.
But also, they haven’t consistently written the characters that way. Both Charlie and Monica are written as keeping secrets and being menacing to others at times. Sometimes the show follows through to explain the behavior, sometimes it doesn’t. It leaves me feeling that they’re untrustworthy, when apparently I’m supposed to think they’re completely benevolent.
But, but, but— Am I really supposed to believe that Charlie won’t turn the threats he uses with Charlie onto anyone else? Am I really supposed to believe that Monica’s military plans for Reverie are completely innocent and she couldn’t predict the unethical uses from a mile away? Who are these people? Are they complex or not? How are we supposed to trust that the secrets we know about are the only secrets they have, when they reveal new secrets every couple of weeks?
Mara started out the season as a raging, practicing drug addict and alcoholic in the depths of long-term depression, then Charlie gave her a job and POOF! Just like that, she was sober and well-adjusted again. Her only lingering issue was the suppressed memory of pressuring Ray into shooting himself. I can assure you, addiction is not that simple, and neither is grief.
Then she was in love with Chris, but forgot about him minutes later and was into Paul. Which is as it should be, but it makes the character look fickle.
I love Sarah Shahi and Mara, but, like Charlie and Monica, she got inconsistent writing as a character. She’s the most fully rounded of the main cast, with a life, back story and the full range of emotions. But they still couldn’t decide who they wanted her to be.
Paul and Alexis were written more consistently, but not given much depth. They each live for their work and have a tragedy in their past that drives them. End of cliché back story. They are mild-mannered and pleasant. You can tell them apart because Paul is sensitive and good with people, while Alexis keeps to herself.
Oliver is the only character who feels like a real person. He’s also in a completely different show, which is part of what confused my predictions and analysis. If you can have an Oliver in a show, who’s such a jumble of contradictory but realistic emotions and intentions, what are the rest of the characters hiding? Apparently, not much.
I ended up sympathizing with Oliver’s complaints that no one would take his warnings seriously, since it’s clear that he is right most of the time, but no one listens because they want to make money instead. That would be why he turned on Mara so thoroughly. He thought she was someone who cared about people instead of money and would help him turn the company around. Instead, she bought into what Charlie and Alexis sold her.
That being said, Oliver is an insane homicidal maniac at this point, so it’s not like I’m rooting for him. I can just understand his motivations and how he went from point A to point B, which is more than I can say for Charlie or Monica.
If Reverie is renewed for a season 2, hopefully it will spent time filling out all of the characters, not just the lead and the villain. I liked the show a lot overall. It was a nice mix of feel good weekly stories and the ongoing season long arcs involving Mara’s family tragedy and the potential misuses of Reverie by the military, plus Oliver’s increasing issues with Onira’s cooperation with the military.
The show was at its best when it focussed on the season long arcs, so that’s where I’d like to see more focus in season 2. Give them some ongoing mysteries to solve that take more than an episode and spill out into the real world. The last two episodes of the season were definitely the best, especially episode 10, because the entire team was engaged in the storyline, there was real world action, and there was a legitimate reason for the story to take place in both the real world and the virtual world.
These two episodes had a sense of urgency and consequence that was missing from much of the season. Every episode doesn’t have to be intense, but we do need to feel that what Mara’s doing matters, and the rest of the cast need more to do than occasionally create a new dress for her next visit to a Reverie. They need their own subplots that are urgent and important if they don’t have much in the main plot.
Some of this comes down to an issue of world-building. Reverie built a fascinating world, but didn’t capitalize on it effectively. They brought up the concept of a black market in Reveries, Dark Reverie, but then barely used it. They had Mara experience derealization hallucinations that were symptoms of a deeper psychological issue, which were explored. But we only heard about Oliver’s experiences, and got a quick fright from the visions. Paul told us the bare bones of his Reverie therapy.
Why didn’t we get to go through that with Oliver and Paul? That would make for compelling TV, and would show that Reverie is more than just a toy that people overuse and get stuck in. It can be hard to care all that much when the show is about people who aren’t willing to be mature adults. But showing Reverie being used creatively for therapy, or being misused by the military and the efforts to stop it, or Reverie itself malfunctioning so that someone needs to be saved is more interesting.
Exploring the consequences of an unregulated Dark Reverie might be most interesting of all. There’s all kinds of potential for that to go bad and for people to need to be rescued or arrested. The show might succeed best if they let the team evolve into a Reverie Special Ops team as the main product becomes more reliable.
If they get another season, which is very much up in the air right now. As of today, 9/10/18, Reverie hasn’t been cancelled or renewed. I’m taking that as a case of no news is good news. It took months for NBC to renew Midnight, TX last year, but they did. They also moved it from summer to fall. So, you never know.
My observations about characterization are not meant to slight the cast, who are all good fits for their roles and do great work with what’s written for them. I love all of the actors and will look forward to watching them in other productions, should Reverie be cancelled. I love the characters, themselves, too, they just need to become real, compelling people.
I also like the show’s overall values, and that makes it an enjoyable, relaxing watch in and of itself. In a season when most networks cancelled their diversity and female led shows, it’s clear that the producers of Reverie strove to be as inclusive as possible. Besides the female lead, there’s gender parity within the cast, women in positions of power, ethnic and racial diversity and diversity within the weekly storylines. The women don’t just win their own fights, they save the men and each other.
On top of that, the show believes in family, goodness and love, but it’s not preachy about it. I love a good anti-hero as much as the next scifi fan, but sometimes it’s nice to have relatively mentally healthy, moral characters saving the world for a change. In the real world, we’re seeing where the tendency to ignore morality and mental health, or even to admire the lack of morality and mental health, ultimately leads. It’s not a good place, and immorality and mental illness aren’t traits to be celebrated.
I’ve recently started watching Mickey Fisher’s previous show, Extant, which is on Amazon Prime. I’m halfway through season 1 and so far I like it, but it has some of the same problems and strengths as Reverie. It has a female lead and diverse cast. Family, acceptance and universal love are themes. Morality is a strong component. It asks interesting societal questions, something Reverie only barely explored.
But only a couple of the characters are fully fleshed out people. Extant can’t decide whether it’s about artificial intelligence, aliens/space, or the quest for immortality. If it wants to continue with all of them, it isn’t juggling the themes in a very comprehensible way. Characters are inconsistent and make bizarrely stupid decisions to further the plot.
So Reverie’s issues may be issues with Mickey Fisher. I will say that the writing on Reverie is less clunky that the writing on Extant, but that was achieved by dumbing down the science. Since I’d like to see Reverie delve further into the science behind the product and the brain, not ignore it, that’s not a good sign.
Reverie has a great concept and a fantastic cast. There’s an unusual amount of gender parity and diversity in the cast and writing, including a woman of color in the lead. Season 1 was enjoyable, if somewhat uneven. It showed enough promise that it deserves to be renewed and given a chance to continue to expand on the premise in season 2.
Grade for the season: B+
Images courtesy of NBC.